Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Learning Essentials

Have you heard the folksy New York Life commercial, the one where the insurance agent extols his family values and ends with him talking with his daughter about her school day?

"Sabrina," he says, "I heard you learned subtraction today."

"Yup. Until I was full."

I identified with that end line. I can remember learning math to the sweet taste of chocolate chips. I was pretty good at it while the candy lasted. Well, maybe through 11th grade.

Our son, Dan, had a similar educational experience during fourth grade, getting rewarded for good work with M&Ms, a confection Gilda and I did not stock in our pantry. Indeed, we had no treats around the house, partly because Dan was allergic to milk products as an infant and we encouraged him and Ellie to eat fruit and vegetables, not candy.

We discovered Dan's incentivized learning regimen after his annual visit to the dentist revealed five cavities in a heretofore pristine mouth. Under questioning, Dan readily confessed his teacher gave him candy for correct answers. Ah, the perils of an intelligent mind. Once we had the teacher stop the candy trail, and substitute carrot sticks, he didn't get another cavity. Ever. Fortunately, it did not stymie his education, proving, at least to us, chocolate is not essential to learning.

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